I was the youngest of three boys. We lived in a four-room house with our parents. Dad liked to say we had four rooms and a path. He referred to the well-worn trail to our outhouse. We didn’t have hot-running water. We heated water in pots on an oil stove, poured it into a bucket, grabbed a facecloth and towel and washed in the privacy of our rooms. We washed our hair in the kitchen sink.
We were poor.
Dad had a job, but he spent most of the money on alcohol. There were many nights when I would wake to loud voices. I’d lay still and listen, aware it was Thursday night, and like every Thursday, Dad had come home drunk.
Thursday was payday for my father. After work, he and his co-workers went to the tavern and drank. It was the start of four days of hell. On Friday, he’d go to work hung over and return in the evening drunk again. For the rest of the weekend, he’d drink with his buddies.
He came home drunk one evening, got out of the car, lost his balance, staggered twenty feet, and smashed his head into the front porch. He was that drunk and somehow drove home.
Dad was nasty when he drank—not violent, just mean. He’d yell at us for the smallest thing. Even though we tried not to disturb him, he’d lash out with complaints about our behavior. There was no pleasing the man. For four days out of every week we cowered from him.
I know more about him now, and can even understand his bitterness toward the world. He was born out of wedlock, and spent many years in a Catholic orphanage. The abuse he received there—I don’t want to think about.
As the school week wound down, my stress increased. I knew the weekend was coming. The drinking and arguing were near.
How did Mum tolerate him? It’s mystery to me. She had no where to go. Where would she be able to support three boys on her own. She stayed for us. My biggest fear? She’d give up, walk out, and leave us with our father.
I was in the first grade and sitting in my classroom one morning. We had large windows. I could see my house and the store across the street from it. There was a small bus service. It came twice a day and took people to the city and back.
The bus pulled up. A lady with a red jacket boarded. My mom had a red jacket! I started to cry in front of my classmates. Mom was leaving!
The teacher calmed me. “Michael, your Mum wouldn’t leave you. She loves you.”
I wasn’t convinced. The lunch bell rang. I rushed home and found Mum making my lunch. I ran up, clutched her around the waist and cried.
Mum did everything for Dad. She made his lunches, cleaned, cooked, and took care of us. Dad did little. He worked and in the evening he sat.
If I needed his help, I refused to ask for it. If I did, I knew he’d get angry at me for interrupting his TV time. When he came home from work, he expected his dinner waiting and complain about the lunch made for him that day.
I was afraid to ask him for anything.
The chain on my bike was loose and would fall off the sprocket. It took me forever to figure out how to tighten it myself, but I did it.
I learned to do things myself—the hard way.
My brothers grew older, got their driver’s license, and were blamed for every mark, dent, or scratch on the car. I got my license and refused to drive Dad’s car. I was not going to be blamed for anything that happened. I walked or biked and gave Dad no excuse to yell at me.
Christmases were horrible. He’d be drunk on Christmas day and have no patience for small boys enjoying new toys. There would be more fighting than laughter from my parents. When my brothers and I were older and slept late in on Christmas morning, Dad would come to our room—drunk as usual—and wake us. He expected us to be the kids he ignored. We’d groan and tell to go sleep it off. He wanted to make up for what he missed out on when we were younger, but the damage was done.
One night, when I was a teenager, he was sitting at the kitchen table—drunk. The look in his eyes was a warning. They were red and evil. “Why don’t you go to bed? “ He snarled.
I knew best. I went to bed.
I tried to sleep, but I heard the distinctive sound of his shotgun being loaded. I snuck from my room and saw him going out the door with his gun.
I rushed up and grabbed the barrel, “Dad! No! Let me have the gun. Go to bed.”
“Son, let me do it.” he said. “I’m no good.”
“Dad, please! Go to bed.”
He loosened his grip on the gun, allowed me to take it from his hands, and staggered to the bedroom.
I learned a lot of things from my Dad. I learned how not to treat my wife. I learned to make my own lunch and not expect my wife to make it. I learned it’s wrong for a man not to complain about cooking and cleaning and to give my children the love and attention they need.
Dad didn’t teach by example. He did it by making me aware of wrong. His drinking caused a lot trouble, but all three of his boys became better people because of his it.
Dad passed away in the early 90s. Mom, a strong and beautiful woman, was freed from his abuse. My brothers and I said, “Now Mum is free to enjoy her life.”
I don’t hate my Dad. He was my dad. He gave me life. I can’t hate him for that.
However, I’m disappointed he never experienced the good things a family can provide.
Dad, I love you. One day we will be able to meet again. I will hug you and forgive you.